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Carthay Circle Theatre: projection and sound

6316 San Vicente Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90035  | map |

More Carthay Circle pages: history + exterior views | interior views |

"Good Theatres Deserve Good Equipment"  - We get a look at the Carthay Circle booth in an ad for Simplex projectors in the August 14, 1926 issue of Motion Picture News. It's on Internet Archive.

Those are Ashcraft lamps behind the two Simplexes. In the center are two Brenkert followspots. At the far left it's a Brenkert Brenograph effects projector. Note the bank of houselight dimmers down at the far end of the booth.

Sound arrives: Evidently sound came to the theatre in the spring of 1928. "Street Angel," an April 1928 release, played the theatre in Movietone. Meaning it was Western Electric equipment. They had deals with both Fox and Warner Bros.

Moviemice, a site about all things Western Electric curated by John Conning, gives us this lovely late 20s or early 30s view of the Carthay Circle booth showing off the Western Electric Vitaphone installation. The Universal bases provided both sound-on-film and sound-on-disc capability. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for finding this one.

70mm Fox Grandeur in 1930: The Carthay Circle was one of the few Los Angeles theatres (or theatres anywhere) to be equipped for the 70mm Fox Grandeur process. The Chinese and (possibly) the Criterion downtown also had the gear. The Carthay got special prisms installed in front of the Grandeur projectors to (supposedly) eliminate the keystoning distortion caused by the 23 degree projection angle.

Among features screened in 70mm was the 1930 production "Happy Days" which had a seven week run opening February 28, 1930. They also ran a second feature in 35mm along with it.

A few frames from a 70mm print of "Happy Days." It's from the American Widescreen Museum's page "Seventy Millimeters," reprinting a February 1930 American Cinematographer article. On the release prints there was a very wide optical sound track that we don't see here. We also don't see perforations -- there were four large ones per frame.

An illustration of the "triple vision" image you'd see with "Happy Days" in Grandeur at the Carthay -- on a screen of "unprecedented proportions." The image and a story appeared in the Hollywood Filmograph issue of March 1, 1930. It's on Internet Archive. The article noted:

"In 1890 William Fox showed magic lantern slides in Fourteenth street, New York. In 1896 he presented Edison's first 'moom picksher.' In 1926 Fox-Case offered the first talking motion picture with the sound track on film. Now, in 1930, the same William Fox presents Grandeur film, the long awaited triple-vision invention which, it is believed, will revolutionize entertainment and give spectators more thrills. The first 'Grandeur' is 'Happy Days,' an original melody romance which features Will Rogers, Ann Pennington, Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Victor McLaglen, Edmond Lowe, Warner Baxter, and countless other Fox players who intrigued for the privilege of being in the picture.

"Grandeur is said to further lessen the gap between illusion and real life. Its sponsors claim for it that it gives stereoscopic or third-dimension effects, together with the magnification of distance. The film, which is double the width of the old standard size film, permits of a wider and more deeply etched sound track which is said to give a more perfect reproduction of the human voice. The new invention is shown on a triple vision screen of unprecedented proportions which fills the entire proscenium arch of the Fox Carthay Circle Theatre."

Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for finding the item and posting it as his Noirish post #26477.

A photo of one the hand-built Simplex 70mm projectors installed at the Carthay Circle Theatre in 1930. Note the curved gate (the opposite direction of 1950s and later designs) as well as the fact that projector and soundhead are one unit, a deviation from normal American design practice.

The photo is from the great article "Magnified Grandeur - The Widescreen 1926- 1931" where David Coles gives a wonderful history of this early widescreen process.

A view of the booth installation in 1930 at the Carthay Circle. It's reproduced in the David Coles article "Magnified Grandeur - The Widescreen 1926- 1931." This image and the one above are from the 1931 AMPAS publication "Recording Sound For Motion Pictures" edited by Lester Cowan.

More about early 70mm: is the site to visit for lots of interesting information about widescreen processes. And don't miss Bob Furmanek's 3-D Film Archive site where his Widescreen Documentation page reproduces an article (with photos) on Grandeur from The Motion Picture Projectionist.

Also see the From Script To DVD page "70mm & Wide Gauge: The Early Years" for a list of early wide film exhibition dates in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Theatres Film and Theatre Technology page has more about Fox Grandeur and other early 70mm processes. For more information also see the overview page for Grauman's Chinese, which also got a Grandeur installation. Most likely the same machines were just moved from the Carthay Circle to the Chinese.

Fantasound stereo at the Carthay Circle in 1941: This theatre was one of the few in the country to exhibit Disney's "Fantasia" with the elaborate sound system that was intended by the studio.

An ad piece for "Fantasia" touting the "Multiplane Technicolor" photography and "the new thrilling Fantasound." It's from the Fantasound section page one of Martin Hart's wonderful site American Widescreen Museum.

The projectors were interlocked via Selsyn motors with separate optical sound reproducers carrying stereo tracks for 3 stage channels plus surrounds. It was a complex system that also included variable gain amplifiers to increase the dynamic range. A mono backup track was on the film with the picture.

The separate optical reproducer that carried 3 push-pull tracks plus a control track (to set levels for the variable gain amplifiers). It's from the Fantasound section page one of the American Widescreen Museum.

The Mark X version of the gear that was installed at the Carthay Circle also used notches on the sides of the film to cue relays to activate the speakers in the left and right rear of the auditorium. These auditorium speakers could duplicate the information from the left and right stage channels or function with those signals alone (with the stage speakers shut off) as was the case with the "Ave Maria" number.

The 11 racks of RCA equipment at the Carthay Circle for the roadshow of "Fantasia." The photo appears on Fantasound section page 3 of the American Widescreen Museum.

The film opened in New York November 13, 1940 and at the Carthay Circle on January 30, 1941. Due to the cost of the installations, disappointing boxoffice performance, and looming war-related materials shortages most "Fantasia" engagements were mono optical. After this great experiment, we didn't see stereo sound in movie theatres again until "This Is Cinerama" arrived in 1952.

Interestingly, there's evidence that Disney intended to release the film in a widescreen format. It didn't see that until a (cropped) version appeared in scope with 4 channel magnetic soundtracks in the early 50s. For more data visit Martin Hart's American Widescreen Museum section on Fantasound.

70mm TODD-AO at the Carthay Circle: This was the third Los Angeles theatre equipped for TODD-AO with the second film in the process, "Around the World in 80 Days," opening December 22, 1956. It ran for 127 weeks. The first film, "Oklahoma!" played the Egyptian and the United Artists.

The theatre underwent major renovations including removal of plasterwork on the proscenium and organ grilles. A new booth was built downstairs for the Norelco 35/70 DP70 projectors.

Many other 70mm roadshow runs followed including "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "Can-Can" (1960), "The Alamo" (1960), "El Cid" (1961), "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (1965) and "Shoes of the Fisherman" (1968-69). The theatre also got the 70mm moveover run of "The Sound of Music" (from the Fox Wilshire) in 1966 and a run the 70mm version of "Gone With the Wind" in 1967.

More about TODD-AO: See the Los Angeles Theatres Film and Theatre Technology page for more about this and other 70mm processes. Also see the TODD-AO discussion on the overview page for the Egyptian Theatre, the first such installation in Los Angeles.

For a great compilation of information about 70mm runs in Los Angeles theaters, see Michael Coate's 70mm in Los Angeles page on Also check out his terrific 2016 article "Around the World in 60 Years; Remembering 'Around the World in 80 Days' on its 60th Anniversary" on the site The Digital Bits. His posts on Cinema Treasures also have listed 70mm runs at the Carthay Circle.

The Carthay Circle pages: history + exterior views | interior views | back to top - projection and sound

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